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Not sure if you should take an online TEFL course or a onsite TEFL course? Fabulous! Then this article is for you. I have taken both, so I will be sharing my experience with you.

One of the first things that you may come across when you start doing your research on this topic is some criticism in regards to online course.

Who criticizes online courses?


  • CELTA snobs
  • People who sell in-class courses
  • People who had a bad experience w/ an online course
  • Traditional teachers
  • People who just repeat what others say

If you are considering an online vs. an onsite TEFL/TESOL course then know that you are making some broad generalizations for starters.

Many courses may look or sound the same, but it's not usually either or.

Some people do great with online courses and some do much better with in-class courses, but it often has something to do with the particular course that they took and them and not whether it was merely online or in a classroom.

We can make some generalizations like:

Take an onsite TEFL course if

  • You learn better in a classroom
  • You are extraverted
  • You want direct feedback
  • You are dependent

If you think you will like being in a classroom then you can take a classroom based course. I took one of these that spent 2 days in a classroom and then the rest was take home study.

There was a lot of lecturing and talking about things that I don't think matter now. Stuff like teaching theories and grammar study which are not very practical. There was quite a bit of lecturing.

The only things that I really remembered from that course were the two activities that we did in the classroom.

So even though it was in the classroom it still wasn't that practical despite what a lot of people say.

Take an online TEFL course if 

  • You want to work on your own pace (w/ some caveats see below)
  • You are a self-directed learner
  • You want to save money
  • You are introverted/independent

If you are someone that wants convenience and doesn't want to travel somewhere for a course then an online course might be for you.

If you can discipline yourself to work on it on your own time then it might work. Keep in mind that most courses do have time limited access. For example, you might have anywhere from 75 days (TEFL Express) to 6 months (Full Circle) to complete it.

ESLinsider's advanced course offers unlimited access. 

Online TEFL is cheaper

Online TEFL courses cost less. They can run anywhere from $5-1200+ for a university branded TEFL. Most courses range in price from about $40-300.

Onsite courses typically range in price from $500-2000+. You'll pay more for the so-called reputable ones.

But hold on there wild one, remember they (online or onsite) are not all the same

Quality between courses varies considerably. One reason why online courses have a bad reputation is that they can be boring, lack interaction or just suck. Many like the cheap ones on Groupon that I took are just text based.

You have to read a bunch of text and then answer questions.

There was no video in that course or in some of the other ones on Groupon like this review of IOA. If you didn't know already most people don't read the whole page. They skim.

People are more engaged by video than by text. People want to see something being done in front of them. That is why many online TEFL courses are not any good.

So if you are considering taking an online course then take one with lots of how-to videos. But remember it goes deeper then just video or text - it depends on what the videos are of. If they are of pseudo classes (more on that later) or of teachers lecturing like this review of TEFL Express then they are less valuable.

Tell me and I'll forget, show me and I'll remember...

For example, If I tell you or give you written instructions on how-to shoot a basketball you'll probably fail. But if I show you how to do it and then you try yourself you'll do better.

Now a good online course which is video based will show you how to do it. One of those cheap low quality courses is just going to tell you how to do it via text.


It's going to go in one ear and out the other unless you are especially good at remembering text based instruction.

According to some studies people only read 20-28% of a page online.

And TRUST ME. It makes a difference.

Text is going to go in one ear and out the other.

You need visuals.

A course that shows you how to do things will be better than one that doesn't.

A good in-class course will show you how to do it, then you'll try it, then they'll involve you and give you feedback on it. Not all in-class courses will do that, but a good one maybe like CELTA will do that to some extent.

As mentioned I did not remember much of the onsite course that I took. The things that I did were shown to me and I got to do. I remembered 2 activities that we did which was about 20 minutes or so.

In-class courses can include "classroom" instruction and maybe feedback, but remember this...

Feedback and instruction can be good, however consider the fact that it's 'likely' going to take place in a pseudo classroom with pseudo students. That classroom and those students will not be like the ones that you end up teaching abroad.

Also how much of your time spent in that classroom will actually be spent learning teaching tools, observing other teachers teach, or getting feedback? 

Many courses just like many classes do include a lot of lecturing? But how useful is that?

Is it closer to teaching in real life than online?

Yes, if you are actually learning practical tools, but no if you are just listening to a teacher lecture.

ESLinsider's courses include how-to videos that were shot in real classrooms in Korea and Taiwan. 

Pseudo in-class courses

I took a TESOL course years ago by an "accredited" provider from Canada. The course was a sort of hybrid course where we spent 2 days in a classroom (rented banquet room in a hotel) and then the rest was take home.

Now before I tell you the rest of the story I want you to know that there is this belief that is widespread across the internet that classroom training in TEFL courses is superior to any online course.

Some believe it's like the holy grail.

But what no one talks about is the fact that most of these courses only provide pretend or pseudo classroom training.

What do you mean?

Whatever classroom training that they offer is probably not going to be anything like the classroom you actually teach in.

Why not?

Because most of the time the students that you will be teaching in front of are not real students. They are adults like you and me who are taking a course. 

Hey, that can be fun, social, and a little helpful, but it's not exactly teaching you how to teach who you are going to teach.

Now back to my story.

I was in for a shock when I arrived in Taiwan to teach. Why? Because those classrooms where nothing like that "classroom" and more importantly the students in Taiwan were nothing like the "pretend students" in that course.

My students were real kids in Taiwan, not adults or pretend teachers.

Lastly in most cases you will only do that part of the course for a few hours. While many courses say they are 120, 140 hours or whatever only a small portion of that time will actually be spent "pretend teaching".

"...the 20 hours classroom training was bullshit, just a weekend in a hotel in Chicago for '10 hours a day' where we talked with a person that's taught (supposedly) about classroom management skills, and pretending to teach each other (yes, we all had to pretend to be young students for each other) - okalyddude

Quick facts about online vs. onsite TEFL

  • Online courses aren't accepted by some schools although most schools do (at least in Asia)
  • If you want social interaction take an in-class course
  • You are not in-control of an in-class course
  • Online courses are cheaper
  • If you are independent and work well that way go for the online course
  • Choose a course geared towards teaching the students who you want to teach
  • The so-called reputation (name brand) of a course online or inclass is irrelevant to 96.67% of schools 

Just kidding;) I made that number up, however the message is that most schools don't care what kind of course you took. Only a small percent would. TEFL experience is more valuable than any in-class course.

Learn more about teaching English to mostly children in Asia.

Holy smokes look at what this professor from Yale university said about online learning...

Make sure you tell the CELTA snobs...


But wait the CELTA snobs weren't all wrong. It's true I know from my experience taking an online course (as a test to compare it to my courses). I thought it sucked mainly because it lacked visuals showing you what to do.

You need visuals or you don't learn.

Anyways this is what Toby Moskowitz said...

Here’s my view on this. And just from 25 years of teaching, myself. I find if you’re just teaching facts and methods, that can be done almost as well online as it can live. You could even argue maybe even better online because you can supplement it with video materials, and you can record it, right, and get it perfect. 

Yeah boy, that's a big plug for ESLinsider. Loads of simple how-to videos that show you how to teach. Loads of methods, activities and practical stuff that even a moron like me could learn;-).

In my opinion it's the best course you could take 'if' you teach mostly kids in Asia because it's not another generic one size fits all TEFL course.

But wait you may say.

Other courses say they have videos too.

Of course they do, but do they really? And are those videos filmed in REAL classes or pseudo classes? Are they of the students you will likely teach if you teach in Asia (chances are that's mostly kids).

Doubt it.

But hold on dude I am still thinking of an onsite course.

He also said...

If you’re trying to teach someone how to think and you’re trying to teach them, let’s say, how to do research or how to ask an interesting question and get a scientific answer, that’s much more hands-on.

Here's the deal. 

Most language teaching is to lower levels. You are teaching them fairly basic stuff. There's nothing abstract about it although many courses will teach you fairly abstract and theoretical stuff which is a waste if you ask me.

If you take a good online course then you can learn pretty much what you need for teaching. But most of them are going to be mediocre at best and you won't learn much because there isn't enough monkey see, monkey do.

So then if you take a crappy online course like that then you are probably better off with an onsite course.

Want the best of both worlds?

Here's a course that combines some of the touted benefits of onsite courses like: observation and feedback 'online'.

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